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First Person


Cyle Talley

Cancer and friendship: A personal story

Allee McKown, on the friend she recently lost to cancer and the systems that failed her
Ar 170509591
Myra
Ar 170509591
Myra
Ep 170509591
Allee McKown
Ep 170509591
Allee McKown

Allee McKown’s eyes nearly disappear when she smiles – and she does so often as she remembers her long-time friend- Myra, a Nicaraguan mother of two who recently died of breast cancer. Allee approached me about telling her friend’s story, saying, “I think there’re only nine pictures of her in the whole world, and I have all of them. I want to be able to show her family something that says that Myra had an effect on the world.” I tell that story here, in her own words.

Myra’d had a mastectomy. She stuffed her shirt because she was self-conscious about it, and wore a head scarf once she started chemo. It was a shit show to get the treatments. She would ride the public buses for four hours to the capital every eight days, and she’d have to ride back on the crowded buses having just gotten out of chemo. It’s worth saying that the buses in Nicaragua are crowded. Everyone is standing, and you don’t have to hold on to anything because you’re butt to butt. You’re packed. And so imagine how hot and miserable it is in general, and then think about this woman who just came out of a chemo treatment. She was doing pretty good though, and the last time I visited, she’d gotten through her chemo and everyone was happy. She didn’t even give me the usual big ordeal farewell where she would say, “If God is willing that we see each other again!” because everything was looking up. Then, in mid-March, I called to check in with her, and her family told me that she couldn’t walk – that her legs just stopped working. What they think happened is that she got tumors on her spine, but they couldn’t afford an MRI so they didn’t know for sure. So, I wired them some money for one on a Friday, they got the MRI on that Monday, and then by the next Monday, she had died before hearing the results.

She was the worldly adventurer of her family. She had gone to work in the big city; she wasn’t married, but she lived with the father of her children, which is very adventurous and forward-thinking, especially in her culture. She didn’t practice evangelical Christianity or Catholicism, but she was very Christian. What I loved best about her is how she would always joke around, and how open and honest she was. She would tell me stories that shocked me – like, “Whoa, wait. Have you ever told anyone this story before?!” all while we cooked casually in the kitchen. I think she was sort of mothering me in a way where she didn’t have to be mothering. She was more like an aunt. Less judgment. Moms don’t tell you how much trouble they used to get in, but aunts do.

Myra always wanted to teach me things, and I’ll miss learning them. I know it’s a cliche, but I don’t think that I ever heard her say a bad word about anyone. She didn’t gossip. She was the poorest person in her family, but she was the one who would host the neglecteds – you know, like the poor old man of the town would come over to chat and she would give him candy and rice.

Her optimism and her faith in God were blinding. She couldn’t walk, and she had no idea what the results of her MRI were going to be, but she sloughed it off and said, “Oh, God will take care of me. The MRI will say that everything is fine, and I’ll be able to walk, and be healthy again.” I remember wanting to be angry at her, to say, “No! Not true!” When I told her that I’m an atheist, she said, “No, not possible,” and shook her head at me, and then she told me that she was an atheist because she didn’t go to church, and I said, “But you believe in God!” And she said, “Well, everyone believes in God!” When I told her that I don’t, her response was, “But – you have to!” I called her 10 days before she died, and she was adamant that God would take care of her and that the MRI would come back fine. Her family told me the other day, “We just have to accept that this is God’s will.” I want to just flip out on them, “No, you don’t! The medical system failed you! It is NOT God’s plan to take the mother of two young children!”

During the last two days of her life, she was in and out of the hospital, and I’m told that, as she was getting in the ambulance for the last time, she looked at her brother and said, “If anything happens to me, tell my mom that I love her.” She died while her brother, who was with her, was out to the pharmacy to get her some medicine. And, if that wasn’t enough, her mother and family weren’t able to make it to her funeral because, as they were leaving to go, her mother fainted, and the family stayed with her while Myra’s service was happening.

Thinking about their house empty is hard. She was always there, and it was a big, happy place. SO happy, all the time. I’ve been thinking about the importance of creating a family, and looking out for each other, and being generous. She lived as long as she did because of the generosity of her family, and they all said, “Well, she took care of us when we were little.” I have a small family. It’s just me and my parents, and sometimes I’m a jerk to them. So I’m thinking about how I can be better to the people that I love, and also missing my friend.

Cyle Talley had to cut the part about Myra calling Trump an “ugly, horrible man.” If you’d like to contact him or tell your own story, email him at cyle@cyletalley.com.